Skip to Full Menu

Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Regular Lives for Families with Children with Disabilities

Interview with Kathie Snow
Produced by Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities

Inclusion is Natural, Segregation is Artificial

Click the CC button to view captioning

Kathie Snow: K through 12. Boy. Well, we know that special ed law was passed in 1975. And nowhere in the law does it say for schools to set up programs. It says schools are supposed to write an individualized education plan or program, but the right individualized for each child is supposed to have his or her own. But we know that schools didn't do that from the get-go. They, instead, chose to set up programs based on classification, so that we have schools where they have the autism program or they have the OH and orthopedic for kids with physical disabilities or whatever. And so children are segregated. And we had to stop and question that whole issue of segregation. I mean that's what we did in institutions, we segregated people. And they were further segregated within the institution by gender and disability. And we know that segregation doesn't work.

But one of the things that Partners in Policymaking program helped me learn early on was that inclusion is the natural state of affairs. Every single child in this country is born included. We do not live in a country where you're born into a caste system or you're born into hierarchy or serfdom or some position you can never escape from. Everybody's born included. So what right do have to segregate children? Whenever, we were talking about K through 12, but have to actually go back to even from… Because of the way the federal system is set up and the way services are delivered, age three.

Children ages three and four are eligible to go to public school under the law. Now, again, federal law does not say for schools to set up a special ed preschool, but that's what schools did. And so they're segregated. So it's like if inclusion is a natural state, how in the world are we morally and ethically justified in segregating a child?

I mean, people that don't have disabilities… What other group of people do we segregate as young children? Or any age of school child? Would we look at people… Let's have a preschool just for Jewish children, I mean that's mandated that you go there. Or let's have a separate classes for children of undocumented workers. No, that's like no. We wouldn't stand for that…. Brown versus Board of Education said separate facilities, educational facilities are inherently unequal. The attorney in the Park case tried to apply that to people with disabilities. And that was true in the 1950s in Brown vs Board of Education. It was true in the 1970s whenever special ed law was passed. And it's still true today. So inclusion is the natural state of affairs. Segregation is what is artificial.

Well, if we go back to K through 12, well back to my son for just a second. When he was eligible for special ed preschools, services. And, again, they're supposed to be services… In federal law Congress even wrote in the most recent reauthorization that Congress was concerned that, in the preamble it says that Congress was concerned that special education has become a place and that special education throughout the law it says services, services, services. So it's supposed to be services, not a place.

And so whenever my son was eligible for special ed, I thought I'm not going to send him to special ed preschool. And it wasn't that I didn't want him to be with "those kids." I didn't think any of those kids should have been there. I thought they should have been home with their moms. I mean if their other kids stayed home with mom when they were little or go to the neighborhood preschool or go to the inclusive preschool. Just the neighborhood childcare facility where other kids go. But my reasoning was always, you know, what would I do for my daughter? Whatever I would do for my daughter, I would do for my son.

Because we have what I consider, what I call a disability double standard. If have one set of rules for people that don't have disabilities. And we have another set of rules for people that do. And until we get rid of that, we're not going to make much progress. And so I would encourage parents to always ask the question, what would you be doing if your child did not have a disability? Would you allow your child to be segregated? Well, no.

Well, then why would you allow your child with a disability to be segregated. And so if we think about, especially preschool, I thought, well, I wouldn't send my daughter there. And it doesn't make any sense. I mean, we're a hundred years or more beyond institutions, and yet we're still using the same mentality.

So we like to think that we made a lot of progress, and all we've done is we've created mini institutions. Instead of the great big institution out there on the 40 acres, we have created mini institutions that we call group homes or call self-contained classrooms. But those are min institutions, so that back at the institutions, we segregated people based on disability category.

We, okay, so today, let's say we have a three-year-old child with autism who's not yet talking. And so we're going to put him in the autism classroom where he's surrounded by other kids who also don't talk. That is beyond common sense. I mean, common sense says if you want this child to talk, then he should be surrounded by children who are talking. I mean, children don't talk for grown-ups. They don't talk for speech pathologists. They talk for each other. And so how do we expect a child to learn to talk if he's surrounded by other kids who are not talking?

So then we get up to the other grades. Go to an elementary school where there's an EBD classroom. You know, emotional-behavioral disorder. Oh, yeah, that really makes a lot of sense. Put all these kids that have emotional behavioral disorders in the same classroom. I mean, are we serious? It's like they just learn from each other. I mean they're going to mimic each other. An article that I have on my website, it's called Environment, Environment, Environment, that all of us are products of our environment.

And we look at people that come out of prison. We call prisons correctional institutions. We call them rehabilitation. And statistically, I think, it's like 51% of people that come out of prison go back. Because what do they learn in prison? They learn either how to be a better criminal, okay, and go back and commit more crimes. Or they learn that that's the only place they can survive. That they can't make it out in society. And so they will end up back in prison because that's where they can survive. That's the culture.

If you think about people that are, they call themselves addicts, alcoholics, drug addicts. If they want to stop being an addict or an alcoholic, they have to change their environment…. You can't be an alcoholic… If you keep going to bars, you can't stop drinking and keep going to bars. You've got to get into sober living.

Well, we know that environment affects other people. Environment also affects people with disabilities. So we put children in self-contained classrooms. We put them in a life skills classroom. Life skills education is not going to get you a job. A life skills education is not going to get you into college. A life skills education… Being in self-contained classroom, being segregated only prepares you to be successful in a segregated environment. It does not prepare you to be successful in the real world.

And the real world is not a segregated environment. In the real world, there's diversity. There's all kinds of different things you have to do and different kinds of people you have to get to know. So I don't understand the whole rationale behind segregating children. I think that it's immoral, and I think it's unethical. Again, we would not allow… If anybody said in this day and age, Let's have a preschool for black kids. I mean, people would be up in arms. And yet we say, oh, it's okay to segregate, it's okay to have a preschool just for kids with disabilities and to segregate them. I mean, to me it speaks to the ultimate devaluation and marginalization of people with disabilities. That we have created this essentially underclass of invisible second class citizens.

©2020 The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
 370 Centennial Office Building  658 Cedar Street   St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 
Phone: 651.296.4018   Toll-free number: 877.348.0505   MN Relay Service: 800.627.3529 OR 711   Fax: 651.297.7200 
Email:   View Privacy Policy   An Equal Opportunity Employer 

The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.